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The Treeman’s Diary --- Reaching atop Mt Kilimanjaro on a cycle

10 June, 2020 21:22:51
The Treeman’s Diary --- Reaching atop Mt Kilimanjaro on a cycle

My journey on my bicycle, ‘Chetak’ continued with my local guide Bruno. I started my ascend atop the ‘Mountain of Moon’ Kilimanjaro from Kilimanjaro National Park’s Kilema Gate, the only route designated for cycling.  This is basically a broad gravel route used for rescue purpose. A dense jungle blocked our vision on either side of the path. The silence of the jungle was interspersed with the merry chirping of strange birds, large and small and wildflowers blooming in abundance. The path was quite steep and tiring but we did not have the option to take a break and rest because we were determined to reach Herombo Camp before dusk.

All this while the precipitous path we had taken was tough. We managed to ride on our bicycles but it took a lot of effort and time to maneuver the route.  But after cycling for about 10 kilometres, we came across a large clearing and moorland vegetation took over. Small bushy plants grew everywhere. I could see the vertical path ahead. Bruno pointed his finger at a ridge on the mountain and informed me the camp was located on the other side of the ridge. The distance from our location to the spot seemed like four to five kilometers. When I asked Bruno for confirmation, he smiled and said, the meandering route was long and we had travelled only half of the path. This meant we were to cover another 9-10 kilometers to reach the camp. 

Meanwhile, dusk was descending and in a short while the entire mountain would be enveloped in darkness. It was also getting colder and all our warm clothings were with the porters who had availed the Marangu route. We were supposed to meet at Herombo hut where both the routes merge. So we had to reach the camp quickly. But the route was extremely steep and it was impossible to ride on our bicycles.  I was tense and I could see furrows of worry on Bruno’s countenance.  We finally began pushing and dragging our cycles with us. We would walk a few steps, stand and regain our breath and again continue. After walking for about two kilometers, evening descended and darkness descended. The route was not visible in the darkness and it was getting steeper. The journey was getting physically challenging.  It was getting colder. We halted and I took out my head torch. Bruno’s condition was worse than me. He probably did not have a proper meal. Besides, he had returned from his last climbing trip only two days before joining me and was not properly rested. I felt sorry for him. I had a packet of cashew nuts that I gave him and shared a piece of chocolate. Both of us gulped water and resumed our journey.  

As long  there was daylight, we could see the surrounding nature and this made our journey less painful but now at night, as the temperature dropped and we could see just about eight to 10 feet ahead of us with the help of the head torch, the travel seemed never-ending  monotonous and tiring. Bruno’s condition seemed worse. The half gloves we had for cycling was inadequate to brace us against the frigid temperature descending from the peak of Kilimanjaro. We were now moving at a snail’s pace. 

We walked in silence for some time and then Bruno suddenly announced, “Look at the right, can you see the lights of the camp?” He was right. I asked him, “If the camp is on our right side, then why is it that we are going straight ahead? Isn’t there any path on the right to expedite the journey?” Julio had assured us we would reach the camp in two hours’ time which would be sometime between 4 o’clock and 4.30pm. That is why both of us were not carrying any warm clothes with us. Bruno had been on a cycle trip to the Kilimanjaro top only once before so he had also not been able to assess the situation. Besides, I am a slow trekker and I had already taken five hours to complete the trail that many others would have completed in two hours’ time. Bruno said, there was no right turn to the camp. We had to reach the ridge and ten take a right turn and go down the slope to reach the camp. That would take another hour or so. 

The information hit me hard. I was almost on the verge of tears. My strength seemed to desert me. The overpowering cold was adding to the physical discomfort. We carried on and finally reached the ridge and then took a right turn. The slope was easy to maneuver and finally the glowing lights of the camp came near and we heaved a sigh of relief. 

When we reached the sign-post of Horombo Hut, it was 8’o clock. We took six hours to cross 19 kilometers path. The wardens assigned Camp Number 13 to us. As soon as we entered the room, Jackson came and handed us our sacks. Both of us quickly put on our feather jackets and woolen socks. Jackson served us coffee followed by warm Maggi soup. Both of us felt a little better. I was told that my cook and another porter were unable to reach this camp and they had taken shelter in a camp in the lower altitude. They would reach the next day. Meanwhile, Jackson and the other porter took charge of the kitchen. 

I was dead tired and not in a condition to chat but I decided to talk to Julio after we returned from the expedition. I would advise him not to flag off journey of cyclist climbers to Kilimanjaro peak so late in the afternoon. While I was musing on these thoughts, Jackson appeared at the door with finger chips and a huge quantity of raw salad. I consumed the entire food in no time and felt a lot better. I was overjoyed to think that I had been able to conquer a height of 3,720 meters with my Chetak. This gave me confidence to reach the top of Kilimanjaro with my bicycle. I was content as I went to bed at 10 pm. 

Story Tag:
  • Sports in Bengal, Bengali Cyclists, Ujjwal Pal

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